How Your Brick-and-Mortar Business Can Remain Competitive in an Online World

With so much competition from online behemoths like Amazon and Walmart, smaller businesses may wonder how they’ll ever survive. The retail market space and its competition are no longer composed of just those stores within a local radius. Entrepreneurs are now competing with sellers nationwide that order in bulk and offer deep discounts. Add Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping into the mix, and the stress on local business owners’ shoulders weighs even more.

There’s no denying the ease of shopping from your living room sofa and receiving products right to your front door. However, things may not be quite as dire as they seem for local brick-and-mortar stores.

Many experts predict a slight uptick in brick-and-mortar sales of about 1.9 percent by 2023.

While online sales will continue to increase at a rapid pace, there is still room for physical brick-and-mortar locations. The key is knowing how to balance online and brick-and-mortar to gain the best of both retail worlds.

If you want to remain competitive in an ever-changing landscape, you must be ready to adapt to the changes in technology and the way your customers shop.

Here are a few areas to focus on:

Personalized service

Large, online retailers provide impersonal service. In fact, it may even be difficult to reach an actual person to solve a problem when you have one. As a brick-and-mortar business, you can differentiate yourself by knowing who your customers are and anticipating their needs before they realize they have them.

For example, if you know a customer has an upcoming anniversary, send them a card wishing them well and offer to help them choose a gift their spouse will love. Think about how you can create something special an online retailer can’t do, such as having several options pulled when the customer arrives in-store, and offering to wrap them.

Related: How to Bring Your Brick-and-Mortar Business to the Digital World

Community involvement

Spend time in your local community. Invest in a youth activity, go to networking events or donate to causes that matter to you and to local residents. There is no way a large, online retailer several countries away can ever understand what makes your little town click.

However, you can get to know the people and better understand their needs, so you can meet and then exceed them. Take the time and get involved in local events so your brand remains top of mind.

Omnichannel experiences

While large, big box retailers may only offer online experiences, you have an advantage. As a brick-and-mortar store, you can easily provide internet sales in addition to your your physical location. This allows you to create an omnichannel experience for your customers.

For example, you can create an app for customers to download coupons that they can then use in-store.

Since omnichannel shoppers have about 23 percent more repeat trips to a retail store than brands with only one channel, this gives you an opportunity to increase sales to clients you already have.

Customer experience

At the heart of brand loyalty is the customer experience (CX). If a customer buys from you and has an unpleasant experience, they may never return.

On the other hand, if they’re greeted cheerfully, the salesperson works to solve their problem and you follow up with them after the purchase, they are very likely to remember their positive experience. They will likely return when they need another item, and they’re likely to use word-of-mouth to tell their friends and family about their positive experience.

Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are becoming more commonplace as the capabilities of smartphones become more advanced. Retailers can use this technology to their advantage by creating experiences for consumers to try out big-ticket items before investing a lot of money.

Brands such as IKEA have begun to use VR via mobile apps to show how a big piece of furniture might look in a specific room. Using 3D imagery is becoming more popular, so it will be interesting to see where this technology takes retailers in the near future. Once only used by e-commerce companies, the accessibility and speed of mobile devices allow nearly any type of business to try this marketing method.

Prepare for showrooming

Showrooming is when a customer comes into your store to see what a product looks and feels like in-person, but then seeks out a cheaper alternative to order the item online.

One way you can circumvent this practice is by instituting a policy of matching online prices (within reason). You could also point out the advantages of making a purchase from your store, such as receiving the product immediately, avoiding shipping costs and easy returns, which an e-commerce retailer might not provide.

Create a destination

You must give customers a reason to visit your store. How can you create a unique atmosphere that is fun and interesting? Hosting events help make your business fun and exciting. If you can get people in the door, then you can entertain them and turn them into repeat customers.

Consider adding some fun events like popcorn Fridays into your marketing calendar, give customers a scratch-off card to reveal a discount, or cater to young families by hiring a balloon-making clown to engage them as they enter your family-friendly shop.

Employee training

Customer service truly does matter. Today’s world is highly impersonal. Most people can go through the majority of their day and never speak directly to another person. There is still something to be said for another person greeting you with a smile and an offer to help you find your way.

Train your employees thoroughly on how to engage people, how to hone in on their problems and how to offer a solution. Your store should be so customer-centric that all focus is placed on the person standing in front of the you from the moment they enter until they walk back out the door.

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Prune your products

Online retailers often have massive inventories. This is great when you have millions of shoppers as Amazon does, but it doesn’t work so well for small brick-and-mortar businesses with lesser numbers of regular customers.

Take a hard look at what products sell and what just sits in your store for months at a time. Prune your inventory down to the items people are truly interested in. Focus on promoting those items and specializing in a few on-demand, custom products.

Get creative

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and study your online competitors the same way you examine those in your area. With a little creativity and a lot of determination, you can find a successful balance between physical and electronic sales.

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